hands that hold

This wasn't a joyous homecoming, and Sakura wondered bitterly if there was any home to go back to anymore. The reunion wasn't what it was supposed to be. The silence lasted just long enough for Naruto and her to take in the Akatsuki cloaks, and the three others that weren't Naruto or Kakashi or her.

They weren't the first to speak, because the only thing that this broken once-upon-a-time team had left was the ability to know, to tell, what the other was thinking. They had to, because Sasuke was never one to talk and Naruto and Sakura were never ones to give up.

The red headed one, the girl, spoke first, her voice laced with a condescending sneer, "Move aside Konoha vermin, we don't have time for the likes of you."

The only thing Team Seven loved more than Sasuke was Konoha, and so they began.

Sakura was told tersely that he was being held in maximum security, but she knew that it really meant the underground dungeons, one of the few parts of Konoha that wasn't destroyed by Pain, and torture. She had healed the worst of Sasuke's injuries at the beginning, hating herself and torn between wanting to leave him for dead and weeping, so she doesn't go to see him anymore. She would absently think of it as a punishment of sorts, but sometimes she'd wonder for whom.

Certain people did notice though, that after a certain chat the quiet pink haired medic had with Morino Ibiki, there was no more talk of torture in the dungeons.

She finally went to see him on the 23 of July, two months after his imprisonment and two weeks after his quick and decisive trial, which he had not been allowed to attend. She could feel the weight of his stare on her, and if not for the chakra draining chains binding his wrists, she would've sworn that she could see the red of the sharingan piercing through the dark of his cell (it was a windowless, lightless jail, dank and cold and completely removed from any human interaction, she had made sure of that). Sakura sighed, reveling in the silence and the fact that he couldn't see her, resting her forehead against the cool metal bars that she couldn't see.

"You'll be released from this place tomorrow. Your sentence will be handed to you then."

And then she walked away.

Sakura watched as ten ANBU guards escorted him to the small tent that he would be staying in, they were to wait until the sealing technique that would prevent him from leaving Konoha took effect, and then he would be left alone. The Uchiha compound hadn't been damaged too badly, and by all means he could've been shunted off to those dusty, haunted quarters, but Sakura knew, and Sakura wasn't cruel.

His trial had been a quiet one, Danzou and the rest of the elders were dead and the only one with nearly enough authority to decide anything was Kakashi. The rest of the jounin had stood in for the council. The original sentence suggested had been execution, but she'd convince them, with all the condescension and haughtiness in the world that they'd be wasting time and resources executing a little boy. Both Madara and Itachi were dead, and there'd be little reason for him to make any trouble. He was sixteen, she reminded them, sixteen and foolish. When a nameless and faceless jounin lightly commented that Itachi was thirteen when the massacre occurred, Sakura choked out a humorless laugh and produced a dusty mission scroll from her pack, slamming it onto the table where they gathered.

Her voice was bitter when she spat out, "Sasuke will never be like Itachi."

(Naruto, sitting at Kakashi's right hand side, watched strickened at her retreating back and wondered where his Sakura-chan had gone.)

She thought that he might've been grateful, but then she never stays long enough to find out.

Sakura was busy most days, healing and building and mending. She's tired too, and though her smiles were never rare, they were small and subdued-- a quiet uplift of the lips that quickly lost itself, as if she was too exhausted to maintain even a façade of happiness. Medics were in short supply and high demand, and she just happened to be the best (Sakura always tries hard not to think of Tsunade, wasting away in an irreversible coma, and her own failure in saving her shishou), so she permitted herself no rest.

He finally found her one night, kneeling by the side of the road, knees pressed hard into the dirt and hands pressed painfully tight against her head as she fought the oncoming wave of nausea and fatigue. She stared up at Sasuke through splayed fingers and hooded eyes, traveling up, up from his sandaled feet to the black pants that he wore, to the equally dark shirt, and then finally to his marble face. She shuddered a little at the beautiful features that she couldn't forget, and almost missed his outstretched hand. She doesn't take it though, even if this could've been the beginning she used to dream of. Sakura was grown up now, she knew better, wanted better, deserved better.

She picked herself up instead, wearily brushing dirt away from her clothing, and for the first time since his return, looked him in the eye.

Sasuke almost stumbled from the intensity in them, the green of it burning in a way that his sharingan never could.

Not yet, you're going to have to do better than that Sasuke-kun.

Sakura wondered if better would ever come, and then forced herself to walk away from his still form once again.

It took a while, actually, to rebuild and get her village back on its feet. The rubble was cleared away first, the earth tilled and the old recycled to build the new. Aid poured in from Suna, and they somehow managed to get all the vital buildings, like the hospital, back up in a year or so. It took another three for most of the civilians to leave behind their tents and find homes again. Naruto was Hokage now, the hero that he'd always wanted to be for the village that he's always loved. He still visited her a lot, but it was different now, like they were different.

Naruto had been more than capable, working with alarming speed to get trade going again as soon as possible, along with patching up Konoha relations with nearby countries. Hinata had been a great asset in helping him deal with the more politically entangled aspects of a Hokage's life, and Shizune had done her best with administration.

The most surprising help that Naruto received though was from Sasuke. He'd been reinstated into the shinobi ranks as soon as certain details about a mission that Uchiha Itachi received twelve years ago was leaked, and he was soon celebrated as having a hand in freeing the village from Danzou's oppressive rule. He was invaluable to the Hokage, having successfully rebuffed three attempted invasions against Konoha with no more than ten men and, ironically, was Konoha's temporary ambassador. Only a select few ever knew that Sasuke had been part of the Akatsuki, and the long, secretive trip that he took to Lightning finally eased tensions between Konoha and the rest of the ninja world.

He'd been working tirelessly, and had proven himself adequately that most villagers regarded him as a sort of tragic hero. Even Naruto had joked about Sasuke's new cooperation and helpfulness.

She hasn't spoken to him, really spoken to him, for years now. Sakura never had time to think about it much, but on particularly quiet nights, when she was alone in bed and practically suffocating from the weight of the darkness pressing against her, she'd feel the slow, throbbing pain in her chest that she knew had nothing to do with training and everything to do with him. Sakura doesn't cry, not anymore, but sometimes she wished she still could, just to try to relieve some of the pressure building inside herself.

After all these years, she was still waiting for him.

Tonight though, Sakura wasn't in bed. It'd been a particularly tiring shift at the hospital, and there was a mission waiting for her the day after tomorrow. The road from the hospital to her house was deserted and quiet, save for the buzzing of the streetlights. Suffering from chakra exhaustion, she had clumsily stumbled down the street, and when she tripped, she almost didn't see the ground rising up to meet her. A pair of hands caught her before she fell though, and the last thing Sakura was conscious of was those same hands, gently, painstakingly cradling her to a hard chest before she blacked out.

The first thing she registered when she woke was the plain white of the walls around her, and then the next was of the mind numbing headache that she had. Recognizing the signs of chakra exhaustion well, Sakura tried in vain to remember what had happened last night as she fell into those almost-familiar arms. Peeking through tangled lashes however, she instantly recognized the small and sparsely fitted room as Sasuke's bedroom, despite only being here once before, when he was moving in and Naruto had demanded her help.

Sasuke himself was leaning against the doorjamb, holding a steaming mug of something with a look on his face. His features had matured; the patrician planes and angles sharp and defined, but the way that he looked at her, it was as if all the hard edges that she was used to seeing in his expression, in his eyes, had been filed down and softened, and then with a jolt Sakura realized what she was seeing was concern.

She looked down again, and silence reigned until a mug appeared under her nose, half full with steaming tea.

"It's green tea. Drink it, it helps combat exhaustion." His smooth voice was deeper, still steady and quiet. She took a sip of the warm tea, and sighed as she breathed in the steam wafting off the surface, resolutely not meeting his eyes. Long, elegant fingers suddenly brushed against her cheek, tucking stray strands of pink hair behind her ears. Sakura finally looked up, startled, and she could tell by the small tightening of his eyes that he was surprised by his actions as well.

She took one more sip of the slightly bitter tea, and then set the mug aside on the small nightstand besides her, watching her own hands in rapt fascination as they tightened around the navy blue sheets, which, she suddenly noticed, subtly smelled like him, like fire burning fragrant wood. She wondered if his scent was on her too, and if it was going to be a mark, a brand that she'd never be able to scrub off.

The idea pleased her so much that she looked up at his face again, for something else to distract her with.

"Why?" Her voice was a little raspy, but otherwise steady and sure.

"Because for you I'll prove myself twice."

This time, when he offered his hand, she took it.

a/n: Bit long (or not long enough), and I'm still not sure if I got what I wanted. Orignal line that inspired me was "For you I'll bleed myself dry", in the song Yellow (Coldplay), but before I listened carefully I kept thinking it was "I'll prove myself twice". Any questions about the fic, just ask. C: And YES, it's all interconnected, as in the first is the earliest in the time line and the last is the latest. Reviews and feedback appreciated.